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THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING (ABRIDGED)

ADVENTURES IN MATH AND SCIENCE

Compelling popular science with an ambitious underlying theme.

Two veteran science writers address a host of big concepts.

Geneticist Rutherford and mathematician Fry begin by describing a library whose books contain every possible combination of letters, spaces, commas, and periods. “Every possible” means “infinite,” so the library would fill far more than the cosmos. Infinity is a fascinating concept, vividly explained by many authors. Rutherford and Fry, however, employ it as a metaphor for the complexity of the universe, the difficulty of communication, the evolution of language, and the mechanics of Darwinian evolution. In the chapters that follow, the authors answer intriguing, if often oddball questions. What would an alien look like? Deeply unimaginative, Hollywood gives us either humanlike beings with swollen heads or “insectoid, human-sized, phallic-headed, acid-blooded, armour plated” monsters. The authors emphasize that almost all earthly life is tiny; bacteria dominate. The total mass of plants is vastly larger than that of animals. Basic science reveals that on any planet, flying creatures will have wings; living in liquid, they’ll be torpedo-shaped; on land, they’ll have legs, maybe four, six, or more. Some readers may be surprised to learn that two-legged animals are rare. Telling time seems straightforward, but it’s actually quite complicated. An earthly day is not only not 24 hours long; an average day is not 24 hours either. The sloshing of the Earth’s liquid core, the tug of the moon and planets, and even winds make the time of one earthly rotation “totally unpredictable.” Atomic clocks are the most accurate time-keepers, losing “less than a second every 15 billion years.” Throughout history, predicting the end of the world has been irresistible; surveys today reveal that 1 in 7 people think it will happen during their lifetime. After an amusing review of doomsday cults, the authors reveal the facts: The sun is slowly getting hotter and will render the Earth uninhabitable in roughly 1 billion years.

Compelling popular science with an ambitious underlying theme.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-393-88157-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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CALYPSO

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

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In which the veteran humorist enters middle age with fine snark but some trepidation as well.

Mortality is weighing on Sedaris (Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, 2017, etc.), much of it his own, professional narcissist that he is. Watching an elderly man have a bowel accident on a plane, he dreaded the day when he would be the target of teenagers’ jokes “as they raise their phones to take my picture from behind.” A skin tumor troubled him, but so did the doctor who told him he couldn’t keep it once it was removed. “But it’s my tumor,” he insisted. “I made it.” (Eventually, he found a semitrained doctor to remove and give him the lipoma, which he proceeded to feed to a turtle.) The deaths of others are much on the author’s mind as well: He contemplates the suicide of his sister Tiffany, his alcoholic mother’s death, and his cantankerous father’s erratic behavior. His contemplation of his mother’s drinking—and his family’s denial of it—makes for some of the most poignant writing in the book: The sound of her putting ice in a rocks glass increasingly sounded “like a trigger being cocked.” Despite the gloom, however, frivolity still abides in the Sedaris clan. His summer home on the Carolina coast, which he dubbed the Sea Section, overspills with irreverent bantering between him and his siblings as his long-suffering partner, Hugh, looks on. Sedaris hasn’t lost his capacity for bemused observations of the people he encounters. For example, cashiers who say “have a blessed day” make him feel “like you’ve been sprayed against your will with God cologne.” But bad news has sharpened the author’s humor, and this book is defined by a persistent, engaging bafflement over how seriously or unseriously to take life when it’s increasingly filled with Trump and funerals.

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-39238-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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